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University’s Architect Has Built Both a Campus and a Career Here

University Architect Ron Kull’s entire life has been shaped by UC. So, it’s only fitting that he, in turn, has dramatically shaped the campus.

Date: 8/30/2006
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre
UC ingot As a boy, University Architect Ron Kull lived across the street from UC. He lived where the Environmental Protection Agency now stands and crossed campus every day to attend  Schiel School in Corryville. That routine continued when he was a student at Hughes High School – and continued still again when he earned two degrees at UC.

So when Kull took on the role of university architect in 1990, it was something of a homecoming for him.

Ron Kull

“Because I was a Clifton native and lived nearby UC when growing up, campus was my home away from home in my early years. I think I walked on campus every day when I was growing up. My attachment was so strong that I didn’t even consider going anywhere else for my degrees,” explained Kull, who graduated number-one in his architecture class when he earned a degree from UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning in 1968. He went on to earn a master’s in management and organizational development degree from the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences in 1981.

Still, he added, “That’s not to say that I knew what I was letting myself in for when I arrived to work here in 1990. I actually – and foolishly – thought I might be a little bored here after having served as the city’s architect. I even wondered how I would ever stay busy. Well, the Master Plan took care of that.”

In fact, UC’s Master Plan, the transformation of campus for the next century, put Kull’s career on fast forward. Just before he arrived at the university, work had begun on the plan, and the first building of the Master Plan was completed in 1992.

Kull originally came to campus as a loaned executive from the City of Cincinnati. He actually turned down a permanent position at UC twice before deciding that implementing the Master Plan was too good an opportunity to pass up. In the unfolding process of development, Kull has guided the work of an international roster of leading architects, including 2005 Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne.

Throughout the years of development, Kull has been key in coordinating campus construction with Master Plan objectives as well as creating neighborhood development partnerships to produce new housing and retail space. He’s contributed to the completion of some 35 new construction, renovation and green-space projects, many of which were among the most complex of their kind.

In fact, books – as well as countless newspaper and magazine articles – have chronicled and praised the university’s Master Plan efforts as a model to follow. Most recently, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and The Plain Dealer as well as magazines like Architecture, Trends, and Architectural Record have all covered aspects of UC’s Master Plan.

The Chicago Tribune opined of UC:  “The spectacular revamp is one of the most significant acts of campus planning since Thomas Jefferson laid out his ‘academical village’ at the University of Virginia… .”

Kull can quote that statement nearly verbatim, citing it as the most fitting praise he could ever hope for in his career. “If you ask me what I’m most proud of in my UC career, that statement sums it up. This Master Plan has set new standards nationally and even globally because of the great team assembled here at UC along with the architects we selected. The world’s best architects would call me over the years saying, ‘I want to design a building for the University of Cincinnati.’ It’s been exhilarating to be a part of the whole process and to see the plan, in a certain sense, reach its culmination in the completion of MainStreet and Varsity Village,” stated Kull.

He can recall the moment he first experienced a sense of completeness in regard to the  Master Plan: “I was standing in front of the ERC. I looked up at the sloping walkway between TUC and the Steger Student Life Center. All these people were streaming down the pavement on MainStreet. It exemplified a dynamic urban environment with texture, fun and a subtle vibration to it. It was a cohesive setting for people. At that moment, I said to myself, ‘This is it. This is what it’s been all about.’ That was my culminating moment where I felt that I’d completed what I’d come here to do.”

And that sense of personal and professional achievement is one of the reasons Kull also feels he’s ready to “retire” to new challenges and projects “with a few more vacations thrown in.” Though the next phase of his career is still under construction, Kull envisions service to the city as an option because his local roots are so strong.

As university architect, Kull has been part of a 90-person organization that encompassed four departments and focused on the campus transformation. He plans to continue his leadership roles within community and professional groups. For instance, he serves on the Board of Trustees for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, and he is planning the Association of University Architects annual conference set for June 2007, an event that will draw close to 200 university architects from around the country to the region.

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